On Jan. 1, 1802, the people of Cheshire, Massachusetts, sent a giant block of cheese to President Thomas Jefferson, being presented by the famous Baptist preacher, John Leland. John Leland was then invited to preach to the President and Congress in the U.S. Capitol. The subject of his talk was “separation of church and state.”
Baptists had been particularly persecuted in colonial Virginia, as Francis L. Hawks wrote in “Ecclesiastical History” (1836): “No dissenters in Virginia experienced for a time harsher treatment than the Baptists. … They were beaten and imprisoned. … Cruelty taxed ingenuity to devise new modes of punishment and annoyance.”
So many Baptist ministers were harassed, and their church services disrupted, that James Madison introduced legislation in Virginia’s Legislature on Oct. 31, 1785, titled “A Bill for Punishing Disturbers of Religious Worship,” which passed in 1789.
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